Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Do it too soon

I’ve been feeling stuck. Not unhappy, can’t-get-out-of-bed want-to-hide-under-a-rock stuck. But standing-staring-at-a-signpost-pointing-567-different-directions-unable-to-decide-which-way-to-go stuck. A few weeks ago, I actually chose one of those 567 paths and took a few faltering steps into new terrain.

As I type, I am listening to the hum and whirr of a 17-inch Canon iPF 5100 fine art printer in the process of initializing. It arrived on April 7, on a pallet that was dropped off, thunk, in our driveway. When we tried to lift the 3′ × 4′ box, it had no bottom; so instead of wrestling the oversized container into the back of my SUV (destroying our backs in the process), we found ourselves gazing at an array of long, flat boxes; plastic-wrapped trays and manuals; and a hulking form swaddled in white protective foam adorned with bright orange tape and red attention! tags.

All this was relatively easy to transfer into my car, and then to the Roost—though the printer was still awkwardly big and heavy, and threatened to slither from our grasp on the crabwise shuffle through the gate, down the driveway, and up the stairs. But soon it filled the four-foot banquet table bought special for the purpose. I then liberated it from its foam sheathing and stood back to admire its professional size and look. The paper tray, which now held two foil-wrapped print heads and twelve foil-wrapped ink cartridges, along with the Getting Started manuals (in English, French, and Spanish) and three CDs, I shoved under the table. Then—I turned and fled. And I have barely been back to the Roost since.

It’s not that I’m afraid of the printer—or, rather, of what it represents: being creative, striding off in a new direction, taking a risk. Turning more to photography, in which I have no training, while relegating words—my profession and comfort zone—to personal exploration and play. No, that’s not what holds me back.

What holds me back is my gremlins, who have a nasty habit of muttering under their breath. Although I don’t actually hear the words, the tenor of their message is clear: “You think you have a chance in hell making it as a photographer?” “You don’t have the patience to fine-tune a photograph until it’s right!” “Wait until the critics have a go at you!!!” All this accompanied by derisive laughter. These guys have been with me a long, long time, and they are insidious; invidious too. Downright no good. And—I have to keep reminding myself—they do not exist. They do not exist. They are entirely in my mind. And over that, I have some control. I can guide my thoughts in a positive direction—away from the sneering gremlins.

So as I ponder this new path, I am determined, if nothing else, to prove those gremlins wrong. I won’t ignore them—bless their gnarly hearts, they are only trying to protect me. But I will show them that their concern is misplaced. I may not “make it” as a photographer in the sense of making a living, but I can find joy and satisfaction in making good photos, making good prints, and putting my work out in the world. And I know I can be patient and thorough: my work with words has taught me that. As for critics, I have a lot of friends who appreciate my work. Strangers—well, they can have their opinion. I don’t need to please everyone. Or even anyone. Except myself, in doing the work and finding pleasure in it. Taking risks and learning from the experience.

So this evening I followed the crystal-clear 38-step instructions for initializing the printer: I installed the print heads and the various color-coded ink cartridges, spooled the roll of matte paper, and, with anticipation, pressed the power button. As the machine whirred to life, I felt that I’d been joined in the room by an ally—someone to take my side against the gremlins. A co-creator. Or, in the end, a tool. But certainly not an enemy, something else to do battle with. Though I do anticipate a learning curve as I figure out printer profiles, calibration, and color profiles.

And I thought about the first print I would make on my new printer: something from my bathroom at the roost, taken on a rainy day; quiet, intimate, a bit mysterious. You don’t immediately know what it is, but when you recognize it, it makes you smile. At least, it does me. I am happy to have seen the possibility of this photo, and the subject matter brings back some sweet memories. What could be better?

All this brought to mind a quote I ran across recently, by Barbara Sher: “Doing is a quantum leap from imagining. Thinking about swimming isn’t much like actually getting in the water. Actually getting in the water can take your breath away. The defense force inside of us wants us to be cautious, to stay away from anything as intense as a new kind of action. Its job is to protect us, and it categorically avoids anything resembling danger. But it’s often wrong. Anything worth doing is worth doing too soon.”

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Indian paintbrush

Originally uploaded by tsallam

I had occasional moments today, on a hike in Garland Park with David, when time stood still and I was right there, in the present, out of body, out of mind. Trying for a sharp capture of this Indian paintbrush (Castilleja latifolia) was one such moment. With a point-and-shoot it was a challenge. But I'm happy with this starburst of crimson.

The whole enthralling experience

It is Easter Sunday, a day of renewal and resurrection for many. Out my window here at my Carmel Valley “Roost”—my home away from home, my creative refuge, my retreat—the day is glowing green, a wisteria vine is exploding with blossoms and bees, and the hills are calling. I look at the world out there, that chaos of life, and am able to see its unity and coherence. Yet I find it difficult to do the same with my own chaos: the thoughts and feelings and desires and dreams that roil about in my head and heart. Just this morning, so much has entered into this self-contained space of mine: the tenets of Congregationalism; foxes on an island off California; amazon’s new policy regarding “adult” books. These things appeal to my intellect; they are interesting—and in the case of the amazon thing, outrageous (if true)—and I am glad to know about them, to engage with their meaning for me personally or for society more generally. Other things, though, hit me squarely in the heart: photos on Facebook of a Search & Rescue mission last night that I missed out on, which bums me out; a conversation with a friend about all those old, deep wounds that are so difficult to heal; sharp disappointment over another friend not getting in touch this week, though I “knew” he wouldn't. And of course, joy is in my heart as well: at the beauty of the day; at hearing by email and phone from several people who I know do care about me; at being able to focus on my steady, strong breath, the blood flowing through my veins, and appreciate the fact that I am healthy and, well, alive.

I know the joy and contentment are there, and yet the pain keeps bubbling up. And . . . it’s okay. The pain is part of me. Some days it’s unnervingly insistent and makes me feel almost shattered. On those days, I need to be extra attentive and allow myself space to simply be: to breathe, in, out; to allow tears, salty and mysterious, to trickle down my cheeks. Today seems to be one of those days. Other days the sorrow pools back within some hollow inside me, and I’m able to fully inhabit the self-confident, positive self I know most people see me as. Some days it’s a bit of both. I am never happy to feel that dark shroud descend upon me. However, after many years of not acknowledging that the sadness was even there, I am beginning to realize that I do not need to consider it an enemy; rather, it can be a wise teacher, and a worthy friend. But only if I listen. Which means letting it in, feeling it as fully as I can, and understanding how it contributes to the unity and wholeness that are uniquely and beautifully me.

A friend sent me this quote this morning. It sparked this musing, and so I will end with it. It's by Eleanor Roosevelt: “I wish with all my heart that every child could be so imbued with a sense of the adventure of life that each change, each readjustment, each surprise—good or bad—that came along would be welcomed as part of the whole enthralling experience.”